The Halberg Award judges cast their initial votes yesterday, with Sophie Pascoe appearing a certainty to retain her disabled sportsperson of the year title.
But thanks to the three gold and three silver medals Pascoe won at the London Paralympics, her high public profile and recent collection of the supreme award at the Sport Canterbury Awards, there is a suggestion the swimmer might have been a worthy finalist in the sportswoman of the year category.
But a spokeswoman for the Halbergs said it would be inappropriate for Pascoe to contest the sportswoman's prize, just as it would be for an able-bodied woman to be a finalist in the sportsman's category.
They also want the disabled sportsperson category to be as strong as it possibly can be.
The awards organisers established the disabled section for this year's ceremony after extensive consultation. Its status will be reviewed following the Halberg Awards in February but the feeling is that it is a worthy addition and ensures the deeds of disabled athletes are not overlooked.
"Obviously being a disability sports organisation we are very aware of the inclusion philosophy and extremely supportive and completely understand Sophie and Sophie's position," said Halberg marketing and communications manager Elissa Downey.
"She obviously won the award last year but, originally, her preference was to be recognised within the sportswoman category."
Along with sportsman, sportswoman and team of the year, the disabled winner is still eligible to win the supreme Halberg Award.
Valerie Adams, Lisa Carrington and Lydia Ko are the standout candidates in the sportswoman section this time, while Alison Shanks and Sarah Walker would also be worthy finalists.
Pascoe might struggle in that company and the disabled category enabled athletes to still be recognised in a way that they were not in the past, Downey said.
She cited the example of 2010 Winter Paralympic gold medal-winning skier Adam Hall. He was not a finalist in that year's sportsman's category when, perhaps, he should have been.
"So the process we undertook was in collaboration with Paralympic New Zealand and after surveying disabled athletes and there was overwhelming support for this award to be created," she said.
"Having said that, we want to get to a point where the recognition throughout the country and throughout the sporting community is high enough that there is no need for this award."
For now, the Halberg foundation is delighted to see the esteem that disabled athletes are increasingly held in.
"We've had this incredible year, especially with the London Olympics, where they did such an excellent job of promoting the Paralympics and bringing that awareness up to where we might be at a point now where we are ready to look at this again," said Downey.
Yesterday was the first of two deadline days for the Halberg judges, who were asked to rank nominees in their respective categories. From there finalists will be found and the judges will nominate their category winners and supreme winner.
Debate is already under way about who deserves to win what. Downey said the foundation welcomes that, because it illustrates the awards remain relevant to the community.
- © Fairfax NZ News